Online Poker Rooms Should Learn to ‘Just Say NO’ to Pro Players

Long ago the online poker industry shifted its focus from recreational players to high-volume players. With new legal and regulated markets now opening up I feel it’s time for these poker sites to reconsider their business model.

I keep seeing PokerStars and Ultimate Poker and all of the other online poker rooms touting their outreach programs like player conferences, how they have picked the brains of accomplished players to enact some policy change, or that so-and-so designed some structure to make it “player friendly.”

And every time I see this I just shake my head.

Good poker players can make bad decisions

Here is the problem with that line of thinking; with few exceptions professional players simply don’t have the good of the industry or the poker ecology in mind when they make these suggestions. They have their bottom-line in mind.

I know what most professional players want; an edge! An edge anyway they can get it. They want to make the game as skillful as possible.

It’s not their fault; they are professional poker players and look at things through the eyes of a professional poker player and what is best for them.

Personally, I would rather know what your average recreational player wants in an online poker site, or better yet, why former players who no longer play online left the virtual tables, than what some online grinder, or the 10 well-known representatives who visit PokerStars on behalf of the “poker community” want.

The reason I value these opinions is that above all else pro players want soft games; give them a super soft game and the other nuisance issues lose their importance. But if you give them tough games they start nitpicking.

When the inmates are running the asylum

Allowing serious poker players to have input into your policies is only going to shift the balance (which is already quite unequal) more in favor of the grinders.

I’m not saying professional players shouldn’t be consulted, but relying on them to implement policies is counterproductive for online poker sites. It’s similar to what you get when you let fans decide the All-Star Game lineups—you get a retired Magic Johnson in the starting five.

Or perhaps a better analogy would be to consider what would happen if you let current NFL players decide how to handle concussions. Chances are they would be thinking about how the policy would affect their career and not about the long-term implications on the game or the health of NFL players.

Stop appeasing pro players

So here is my advice to online poker rooms: Stop! Just stop trying to make these people happy and caving in to their demands.

Frankly, I’ve never understood why online poker rooms try to pacify “grinders” and this is also becoming a problem with poker tournaments, where structure changes and fees and late registration and reentries have become all about making the pros happy and not about the betterment of the game.

Sure, high-volume grinders are the highest raking players on the site, and can be your most loyal customers (if you continually bow down to them), but here are four reasons they can also cause you nightmares and why they shouldn’t be appeased:

Reason #1: They are always threatening to take their ball and go home

Any change made by an online poker room to a rake structure or to a format is a surefire way to send the poker forums into a tizzy, with players screaming bloody murder about the sites already getting rich off of their blood.

It’s as if they are holding these iGaming companies hostages to get the most favorable conditions possible, “If ABC Poker makes that change I’m going to XYZ Poker.” What they don’t seem to understand is that these sites need to not only make money, but attract causal players to their tables, and they need to make money to attract new players.

Another thing, they will never be happy. Whatever concessions you make they’ll then ask for more. Poker players are like the businessman in Planes, Trains and Automobiles who tells Steve Martin, “Anyone who would pay $50 for a cab would surely pay $75.”

Second, pros inevitably go where the value is, and a site that appeals to causal players is where the pros will eventually end up.

You don’t like our structure because we go from 300/600 to 500/1,000? Go somewhere else. Our tournaments will eventually become softer and then you’ll be back anyway, because you know “their structure sucks but there is too much value not to play there.”

Reason #2: They don’t start games

Sure, they’ll sit at an empty table, but they aren’t going to click the “deal me in” button until they check the person’s statistics online. And is there anything more frustrating or off-putting than 20 tables with a single player “sitting out?”

Or is there any bigger hit to someone’s ego than being the only person these sharks want to play?

Give me a casual player who will start a new table and take on any and all customers all day long.

Reason #3: They don’t generate action or promote a good gambling atmosphere

So, not only do they not want to start new “unfavorable” tables unless they can play the “right” opponents, but when they are playing it’s not like they are splashing around and generating action either.

They are more like Buzz Killington from the Family Guy episodes. If they do chat (while they are playing 12 tables) it’s to berate someone, or “lol” at their SharkScope stats, or chitchat in poker speak about getting staked with another grinder.

In the modern poker game, where you’re lucky to have a single bad player at a table, who is surrounded by five players with VPIP’s under 25 who seem to be taking turns playing pots against them, it doesn’t take too long before they realize something is very wrong.

Again, it’s off-putting to the casual player. They are there to have fun and play some poker; it would be like going to the local park to shoot some hoops and the only people there are guys trying out for the Summer Pro League.

Reason #4: They employ a scorched earth policy

Rakeback grinders look for every way possible to bust casual players as fast as possible, to maximize their hands per hour, and to cash in on every perk available. They don’t care that they are taking the money from the fish and leaving a wasteland in their wake.

It’s up to the sites, and non-professional but enthusiastic players to keep them from implementing a scorched earth policy, because when they call the shots they simply aren’t good for the long-term growth of the game.

So what’s the solution?

Obviously poker players aren’t going to give up their edges, and we can’t make people affable, but what we can do is stop turning to these players for the solutions and/or advancements that are going to bring about the next Golden Age of poker.

Online poker rooms should definitely enlist the help of pro players, but they should be just a single part of a greater debate.

About the Author

Steve Ruddock

Steve is a seasoned veteran of the online gambling industry, having written about it from every possible angle in his many years as a freelance gaming writer. Based in Massachusetts, Steve especially focuses on regulatory and legislative news coverage pertaining to the U.S. market.